How to Make Shade for the Chicken Coop
The Australian heat can be relentless, particularly in Summer. Just like humans and pets, chickens require an escape from the direct heat. Providing your chickens with a variety of different shade types will keep their stress levels down in the high heat.
Ideally your run should have:
- Proper deep shade: You’ll notice that the shade under certain trees is cooler. This is because it is deep shade. Many eucalypts, for example, provide only light shade because the leaves droop away from the sun to protect the tree. It is like the difference between 50 % shade-cloth and 90 % shade-cloth. In summer, your chooks want the 90 %!
- Several different shade areas: Bullying and other issues arise when chickens are bored or forced to hang out together. Several shade areas mean there is more to do in the shade, like foraging and dust-bathing, and that birds can get away from one another.
- Midday and afternoon shade: Chickens are most active in the morning before it heats up, and in the evening. But in the really hot parts of the day, shade is essential.
- Water in the shade: Chickens drink more when their water is cool, so that means shaded water. On real scorchers, even walking from the shade to the waterer can stop chooks from drinking enough and contribute to dehydration.
When adding shade to your run, keep in mind that chickens still need sunlight for vitamin D and sunbaking. Additionally, the sun will dry out the run after rain and keep parasite loads in check. So you still want areas of full sun, year round. And especially anywhere that water tends to collect.
What is the best shade for a Chicken Run?
Of course, the best shade in the chicken run is a combination of trees and understory plants. They not only provide natural shade, but also forage, hidey-holes, amusement, perches, insects…
Deciduous trees are ideal because they provide shade in the summer and sunlight in the winter, the leaf-litter is a foraging favourite, and many provide dense shade. When choosing shade trees for the run, the trick is to avoid trees with light or dappled shade, or to plant underneath with shrubs and bushes.
However, summer is not the time for establishing shade plants as they can take several years to provide good shade anyway.
Easy DIY Shade for the Chicken Run
Here are a few easy DIY shade options that you can knock up in an afternoon to get your chooks through the hottest part of summer.
A Haybale Igloo
A few bales of hay, straw or sugarcane mulch can make a nice, shady igloo that will last 1-2 seasons. And when the bales start to show their age, you have garden mulch!
Build your igloo two bales high and provide some ventilation at the top, to allow hot air to rise and exit. Have the igloo open at both ends and facing the wind (but not the sun!) for the best ventilation.
Our neighbours build a 4-bale igloo, with sides that are one bale long and two bales high. This provides enough shade for their small flock.
You can use more bales for the roof; they provide good insulation but tend to bow unless you put a couple 2x4s underneath for support. Using old building materials for the roof makes for a wider igloo with better airflow. Tin or timber are good but the best roof we’ve seen was offcuts from roofing panels that sandwich Styrofoam insulation with tin. The DIY version is breaking down a few Styrofoam boxes (e.g. broccoli boxes from your local fruit store) and sandwiching them between wood or tin. The only catch is that chooks will eat Styrofoam, so the edges need to be sealed or out of reach.
Igloos can also become haybale garden beds. Just made a space between two flakes, add a couple handfuls of compost, and plant a quick-growing vine. It will cover the igloo, providing extra shade and forage. Just don’t plant anything you don’t want to pull out when the igloo comes apart!
Repurposed buildings and furniture
Almost any unused building or old furniture can become shade for the chooks! Some of our favourites include:
- Garden sheds
- Bali huts
- Large chests or toolboxes
- Outdoor tables
- Old beach tents or umbrellas (check the shade – cheap ones don’t really provide that much)
A shade-cloth shelter is also a good option for chooks. Go for 80 or 90% shade but don’t cover the whole run. Tie the cloth up like a shade sail, or make a frame. Bamboo teepees and old table frames without the top work well.
Plants (that you can put in now)
Although now really isn’t the time to be establishing your shade trees, there are a few shade-giving climbers that will grow prolifically if you have the time and inclination to water regularly.
Beans can be used to make a bean tepee, using bamboo or sticks. The plants will need protection from scratching chooks, but will grow quickly to provide a shady tepee if planted densely in decent soil and given enough water. These are annual plants, so the tepee will provide shade for the summer and then be ready to come out. In temperate areas, plant climbing beans. Elsewhere, plant snake beans.
Chokos and passionfruit are more permanent plants, surviving 2-3 years or more. They are much heavier than beans, so will need a sturdier frame to grow over. However, they also provide a lot of shade in most climates. They should establish and grow quickly now if provided with plenty of fertiliser and water.
Make a project for the kids
Why not get the kids involved in building a palapa or teepee? Palm fronds, banana leaves, willow cuttings and bamboo can all be used to make a semi-permanent shade structure (its longevity depends on your materials and skill). All you need is a frame and some twine, e.g. repurposed baling twine. It probably won’t last longer than the season, and may need repairs. But a Lord of the Flies chicken run feature is a great project for the kids!